We’re just Lost Folk..

Unusually for a Wednesday night I was unfeasibly excited on 21st November in 2012. Despite being full of cold and feeling rotten, I was off to Rock City to see the mighty Levellers, and by virtue of winning a charity auction I’d been handed a backstage pass to go and collect my swag directly from the band. My love of live music had been reignited by Ferocious Dog, and looking back made me once again more receptive to new music that I’d struggled to find in the mainstream.

Nestled under the righthand staircase (which has subsequently moved in a remodel of the venue) nursing a Diet Coke and sporting a ridiculous Movember moustache was where my enduring love affair with Gaz Brookfield began – and it was love at first sight. I couldn’t even tell you the set list he chose that night, I definitely remember The Ballad of Elizabeth Duke being in there, and either Thin or The West Country Song (or maybe both – I definitely remember a singalongy song).

Whilst awkwardly hanging around the dressing room door after the gig I mumbled something incoherent about how much I enjoyed his set to him as he was presumably gearing up to depart (as we now know, from Land Pirate’s Life, the promised lift on the tourbus went unutilised due to the rubbishness of our rail network) for the next leg of the tour in Leeds at the O2 Academy. I then captured a series of awkward selfies with the Levs – ridiculous moustache instantly regretted!

Citizen Fish followed Gaz and didn’t really do it for me, so I popped downstairs to the merchandise stand and availed myself of the CDs he had on offer – either Trial or Error or Tell it to the Beer, again, possibly both. Since then I’ve avidly consumed his prodigious output and taken in as many live shows as I can – aided not least by his hooking up with Ferocious Dog on their From Without tour.

That love blossomed for a solo acoustic guy, but his incisive lyrics and catchy songs don’t get lost when backed by a band and incrementally flashy production or extras as we step through the albums. I remember Gaz posting that he was ‘throwing everything’ into this recording – and here we’ve got loads of layers, there’s brass, piano, synthy sounding things and more guitar effects along with the more customary acoustic guitar, percussion and fiddle.

Whilst this might be an album for the Lost Folk, you can easily navigate your way through the complexity of layers – the songs cut through loud and clear. The depth and layers of instruments might be considered the mirrors and the smoke of this recording – to steal a line from the title track – but you certainly don’t get lost in it.

Like in his homage to Loudon Wainwright III, Gaz’s semi-autobiographical tendancy either through charting his musical career, personal life or topical musings without getting preachy is both brave and poignant, and I guess being in a very similar age bracket there’s a lot of resonance in those musings for me – perhaps not so much in the musical career musings – but ultimately as humans we’re all fragile with the same kind of life concerns.

Title track Lost Folk opens up the album at pace, I love the addition of brass and chugging bass with swirling keys in the background. Typically catchy lyrics – creating or maybe defining in a demographic grouping I’m sure lots can relate to. Not quite old, definitely not young, politically marginalised in an increasingly polarised world and not interested in the sanitised and saccharine mainstream musical offerings. I’ve been in a few fields full of those kinds of people. It’s more of an attitudinal grouping I suppsoe than a demographic one!

The promise of bigger and more ambitious is delivered without comproming the essence of Gaz’s music. IOU is an uplifting tribute of thanks, The Glorious Adventure Co. slows the pace but doesn’t dull the mood – a bit of googling suggests it’s charting a motorcycle based tour given Gaz’s love of his two-wheeled conveyance – imagery of getting lost for the sake of it is always appealing to me, I do that quite a lot albeit usually walking rather than on a motorbike. I’m far too clumsy for that!

Afterthought has swirling fiddle and brings the pace back up to a bounce – a supportive anthem of how we need to look after each other and it’s really important to not be afraid to talk about your problems. Sage advice – did you know in 2018 there were more than 6,000 suicides in the UK? Men are three times more likely to make up that statistic – and most likely to be in the 45-49 age bracket. Awareness of mental ill health is becoming less stigmatised – but there’s still a way to go, it’s a good subject to address.

We’ve heard Aged Revolt before – an anagram of a popular hotel chain who wouldn’t give Gaz and Jake permission to use their name for their collaborative album. It’s given a facelift here – Ben’s fiddle in particular is rather spectacular! Given the overall theme and feel of the album it does make a lot of sense to revisit it here, and it’s a banging tune he and Jake collaborated on.

Any excuse to use Ella’s awesome shot from Farmer Phil’s a few years back!

Whilst I’ve talked a lot about the layers and complexities – it’s nice to take a break in the middle of the album with just Gaz and his guitar for Pen to Paper – you might’ve seen him open recent shows with this songwriters block lament with two chords and no chorus (although as the lyrics suggest he does sneak some E minors in amongst the Gs and the Cs!).

Snakes and Ladders kickstarts us back into high energy territory with electric guitar, robot-trumping synthy noises and – once of those gently nearly-political ones that ultimately concludes we might just take life a bit too seriously. Oalaego has a swaying feel to it, with an almost country feel to it – I have a nagging feeling I’ve heard Gaz explain the backstory to this song but I’ll be damned if I can remember it – googling or anagram hunting hasn’t helped, I’m sure it’ll come to me!

Uneducated Guess has a much rockier feel musically and notably in vocal delivery – machine-gunned at you over chugging guitars. It works really well for me, unusually for Gaz might prove a tricky one to sing along to (the verses at least).

Another reprise from Aged Revolt is the charming Great Minds Drink Alike with Jake Martin, a bromance of a duet with a bit of a facelift – most notably the piano giving it a pub knees-up feel which is very fitting, with the crowd at the Beehive in Swindon providing backing vocals as the track builds (I was gutted I couldn’t make the logistics work to join in with this – I’m sure I can hear Jamie Westwood on there though!).

Which leaves the finish of Just Another Day, starting with just vocals and guitar and again picking up the themes of ageing but ultimately acceptance as bass, percussion and keyboard joins the mix. The preference of a local pub to a noisy club is something I’ve been able to relate to since my early twenties, so this is definitely up my street – the brass section starts to come into the mix as the track builds and ultimately is simply faded out to bring us to the end.

Another awesome album – and reflecting on looking at the array of talent involved, it brings be back to the start of the post on discovering new acts through old favourites. There’s the likes of Chris Webb, Jake Martin, Nick Parker involved who of course are all songwriters and performers in their own right who through osmosis I’ve subsequently discovered through following Gaz. Supporting the support is the gift that keeps on giving!

Now I really need to get my arse into gear and work out which of Gaz’s tour dates I can make!

Freeborn Al / 28th September 2019 / Music, Other Bands, Photos

Black Thorn – Zealous

I’m horrendously late penning this review – a combination of laziness and busy-ness on my part, but better late than never, right?

Black Thorn put a new EP out as a follow-up to their superb album a little over a month ago – I’ve raved about them in the past, a heady brew of folk, dance and just general feel-good festival vibes with a modern funky twist. I always want to say ‘saccharine’ when I think about them, which could sound in some way derogatory, but it isn’t – it’s just a way of describing the pure joy of the kind of music they produce.

With Zealous though they’ve underpinned this with their darker side – perhaps not surprising given then general climate of the world and the UK in particular. Mr Anonymous kicks in with an audio recording spelling out the bubble of ignorance we live in with bass thrumming behind with occasional guitar strums and accordion – the song kicks in slowly, ethereal before building up to a full on rock number with folk infusion from the accordion. You still get a ‘woo!’ though! The addition of a full drumkit really gives their sound some oomph.

2 Chord Groove kicks in with mandolin before settling to a proper sleazy, erm, groove I guess! As it builds vocals are layered and instrumentals overlaid to build some complexity, it’s a really pleasing effect – a perfect sit in the sun and chill out with a cider kinda song, and then if you have the energy as two thirds in the electric guitar and drums take over into a bit of a rock out! I think this one might be my favourite.

Lazy has a ponderous start leading into what feels like a stream of consciousness lyrics (I do like the rhyme of biscuit and risk it, though!). Eventually kicking in to a rocky chorus before lulling you back into an almost paranoid-sounding verse with great use of backing vocals to add atmosphere as it gradually builds up again with layers to the beefy chorus – I’d love to understand more about what the lyrics mean, if anything! The instrumental is a change of pace and style, a middle-eastern fusion with dance music before a final extended chorus to tie it all together, ending with a bit of studio chatter which personally I always really like!

Home Appliances starts with an old-skool keyboard style start which falters and is taken over by a catchy groovy overlaid with accordion. The vocals kick in extolling the virtue of, well, home appliances! Ranging from a fridge with an ice-dispenser to a microwave to a kettle. That might sound mundane but for the bouncy soundtrack underpinning the song – a proper dancy little number, then you’re thrown into an almost hair-metal middle-eight, then back into the familiar bounce and an abrupt finish.

Mr Bigg starts with some funky bass riff work, joined by accordion and then vocals picking up familiar themes from Black Thorn’s past work – a lament of working life, building up with minimal percussion of cymbals and a woodblock gradually building into a fuller and fuller sound. The story as far as I can make out centring around not really wanting a job as much as a more work-obsessed boss might think so.

Dog Bite Nose documents a story you’re probably aware of if you follow the band on social media, Joel had an unfortunate incident where he was attacked by a dog (I think it was after a gig, I could be wrong) – it’s a slow ponderous start with guitar and accordion, and again kicking in with full drums and guitar chords into a more full on rocky track overlaid with swirly accordion, moving into a more ska sounding section in the middle before returning inexorably to the rocked out section, then winding itself down to ease you out of the EP.

Black Thorn are definitely showing their darker side here, but not losing the charm and songwriting craft which they’ve built their sound and image around – I’m a big fan of adding the heavier sound to their musical canon – heavier guitar work and adding full drums courtesy of of James, and the keyboards and brass of Lily has added new dimensions to what was already a complex and heady brew, but they’ve not overdone it on the ingredients here for my money. It makes me look forward to what is to follow.

You can avail yourself of Zealous and other Black Thorn goodies by visiting their website.

Freeborn Al / 12th August 2019 / Music, Other Bands, Photos

Hiding in plain sight..

I’ve written about my admiration for the lifestyle Doozer McDooze and Birdy Rose have wholeheartedly thrown themselves into in pursuit of their respective artforms. I keep tabs on them through their Patreon project, social media and of course at gigs and festivals where we coincide – I’m partly envious of the freedom, but perhaps mainly reaffirmed my ill-preparedness to give up creature comforts and convention quite to that extent!

They’ve been living full time from art and music now since 2013 – hitting the road in a camper van and literally living on the road. Four years later and their trusty van became not so trusty – so a crowdfunding campaign, t-shirts, artwork and music sales commenced. People like myself who both love what they do and also get a vicarious taste of life on the road through what they do chipped in to enable them to buy and convert their new home.

Doozer’s released a song which documents in video the build process, and in words the fragility of the life they’ve chosen to lead. Coinciding with the song release there’s also new #vanlife t-shirts and hoodies available. You’ll be able to find Hiding in Plain Sight, which was produced by Sam Duckworth, on your downloading or streaming site of preference right now – I for one find it really inspirational.

Part of me laments that I lack the nerve (or indeed, any tangible artistic talent to be able to) to throw off the shackles of convention, but of course, the inherent warning in the song also makes me appreciate those shackles to a degree too. So I’m grateful to properly authentic troubadours who are able to make it work, but to really make it work it needs engagement from the likes of us! Give it a listen and a watch – it’s a cracking song!

Freeborn Al / 27th July 2019 / Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

Concrete Rose single out now!

This represents a bit of a departure for my normal musical genre playlists – but really well-timed as it is, as I’ve just got home from basking in the sun (okay, there was a smidge of rain too) at the wonderful Something to Smile About festival in Hatfield near Doncaster. The reason I bring that up is if you imagine a beautiful field full of happy smiling people, maybe one or two days in, just the ticket for an early afternoon in the sun is a gentle bounce to some reggae.

I guess there could be a thriving reggae scene that I’m probably not generally involved in – most of the events and gigs I get drawn to tend to be folky punky acousticy things, maybe with a smattering of ska thrown in. Occasionally you’ll find a happy coincidence of Talisman or similar on a festival line up from a thoughtful organiser – so perhaps it’s not surprising that I got hold of this single to review because Concrete Rose’s drummer happens to be none other than Alex from Ferocious Dog!

So, Concrete Rose are Lewis on vocals and guitar, Ahmed on bass, Giuseppe on keyboards and vocals and Alex on drums – they’ve come together with this project to build music with positive vibes at its foundation – reggae at root, but introducing influences from hip-hop, R&B, dancehall, funk, soul and beyond.

And today their first single and b-side has gone live on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Music (as well as your favourite streaming services too). As I allude to above, the perfect soundtrack for a lazy summer afternoon – which is certainly what I’m having today in festival recovery mode with it playing in the background.

Title track Benjamin kicks in with a very short drum intro and cymbal crash then lovely staccato reggae strums along with keys sounding like steel drums pick out the melody of the track underpinned with bass and rhythm before the steel drum-like keys drop out to make space for lead vocals to take on the song, which has an accompanying lyric video (see below) – it’s a bouncy track you can imagine having a skank to on a festival field.

It’s followed up with Morning Sun – a deliciously leisurely slow-paced spread over six minutes – guitar starts, then the percussion and the rest of the band kick in with a ponderous dreamy intro with keyboard melodies playing over guitar, base and drums and finally the vocals overlay. I really like both tracks but this one’s my favourite – realising it or not you’ll be nodding along probably with a grin on your face.

The best thing though is the promise of more to come – Concrete Rose have started gigging in earnest, annoyingly I’ve not managed to catch them live yet, but I shall certainly be doing so as soon as I can – but also more recorded material in the pipeline too, it seems like the four of them have really gelled to find a creative sweet spot in their songwriting, so it’ll be great to hear what comes next. Keep an eye out for them!

Freeborn Al / 3rd June 2019 / Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

#upthebabs

Pretty Babs haven’t been slouching since they released their debut album, Graffiti Lights, back in 2017 (I had to check then, in my head it was only last year!) – with an ever-growing gig schedule they’ve released a new EP, #upthebabs – building on their debut by adding Craig to the ranks to beef up their guitar sound.

For a bunch of fellas so young they have a mature gritty rock sound – the kind of thing Sam’s powerful voice has been literally crying out for since I first used to go see his acoustic evenings up at the Brown Cow in Mansfield. Coupled with the clear bond of friendship the four of them have, it makes for a really engaging live show.

Most recently I caught them at the always awesome Ey Up Mi Duck festival last month, and have subsequently been procrastinating about writing this review having acquired their EP there (thanks Andrew!). Oftentimes I find that my favourite live bands don’t always translate to recording – not that I don’t enjoy them, but it can lose the buzz you get from a live performance.

Not so here – clearly the band are careful to work with producers who aren’t going to smooth the edges too much when they hit the studio. Guitars snarl, bass thumps and drums crash across these five tracks, paces change and they give the perfect backing to counterpoint Sam’s voice.

The Fall opens gently before the main guitar riff kicks in joined by bass and drums, as the vocals join the guitar slows right up. There’s pace-changes in the pre-chorus leading into the chorus too before a treat of a guitar solo – the lyrics talk of lighting beacons and I suspect echoes of the horrendous political turmoil we find ourselves in at the moment. It’s a strong start!

Tumbleweed comes with an accompanying video (well, okay, it’s more of an image!) – after initial guitar it’s very percussion led with some overlaid guitar intracies. Almost hypnotic verses are pretty much driven by Brad’s drumming with building guitar and bass input before a rousing chorus kicks in. There’s a nice instrumental bridge here too showcasing pretty much everyone before the backing almost drops out but for subtle guitar and vocals – then everything’s back for a final rousing chorus. More referencing to lighting of fires too!

Blue kicks right in with vocals and guitar strums and occasional stabs, then some drum fills kick in to the full track. If there’s an underpinning of political influences in the previous tracks then here it becomes much more overt “It’s such a pity she’s a Tory girl” is the lament throughout but this is a real barnstormer of a track – you could get a good sweat on having a dance to it.

Roadrunner kicks straight in after a cymbal count in – I do think they missed a trick to have a “meep meep” in there, but maybe it’s not about a cartoon bird trying to constantly foil a not-so-wily coyote! But on listening, perhaps not the right mood to set – we have heavy chugging guitar here and empassioned vocals – definitely much heavier, with an unfeasibly catchy riff following through most of the song.

Then finishing up with with the quieter lament of Death of the Free Man, starting with deliciously intricate finger picking and heartfelt vocals, which you can sample a live rendering of below. I’d half expected it to kick in with the full band – but even as Sam’s vocals lift for the chorus the guitar picking is all that accompanies him, and I think that’s the right call for this song – and rounds off nicely the multi-facets that Pretty Babs bring to the party.

Of all the unsigned bands on the circuit I’ve grown to know and love over the last few years, I’ve said before and I’ll say again that in Pretty Babs they’re the one that I could imagine crossing over to become more mainstream – and I certainly don’t mean that as an insult, but they have such an accomplished style that you could see landing well with a more mainstream audience.

You can catch Pretty Babs at The Bodega in Nottingham on 15th June with a glittering array of amazing support acts too for the sum of just ten English pounds. It promises to be a really awesome night – I for one am looking forward to it very much. You can avail yourself of a copy of #upthebabs from the band at a gig – and presumably digital releases will follow.

Freeborn Al / 22nd May 2019 / Gigs, Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

Fake News and Propaganda..

The final artwork is still in progress so have a gig flyer instead!

I never ask to get sneaky peaks of recordings Ferocious Dog are working on – when people ask I truthfully say there’s an appeal to waiting for the big reveal when the CD arrives in the post.

Funnily enough the latest person to ask was Ken – Ella and I had popped to see him a few weeks ago for some tattoos – he was surprised, and once he’d navigated the labyrinthine band and crew WhatsApp group admittedly we did hear a few songs through a tinny phone speaker whilst he kept tabs on Mansfield Town surprisingly failing to beat local rivals Notts County.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks and a Facebook message pops up from Dan with a link to a Google Drive with ten mp3 files. The only accompanying explanation was ‘nearly mixed’ – no matter how much part of me might want to wait for the big reveal, it’s not like anyone is going to resist that opportunity, now is it? So of course I fired up the laptop and got downloading, eager as a kid on Christmas Eve to get stuck in.

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Freeborn Al / 3rd March 2019 / Band, Hell Hounds, Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

Besieged..

Whilst I’ve worked out how to do this here blogging lark I’ve got another album I’ve been hammering lately to muse upon. It’s one I’ve been waiting to hear for what feels like ages.

I’ve made no secret of my love of McDermott’s 2 Hours in the past – so relatively new release Besieged was a very exciting prospect and it’s not disappointed. A collaboration with the aforementioned along with Levellers and Oysterband, it’s a long overdue sequel to excellent similar co-creations – the last one I think was Disorder way back in 2004… gosh, that makes me feel old! This could well be the full-stop for McDermott’s 2 Hours.

And sure enough, it’s a fitting epitaph (of sorts – I don’t think Nick is hanging up his metaphorical creative boots for other projects).

It kicks off with the barnstorming Firebird, fiddle-driven and bouncing from the off with Nick Burbridge‘s inimitable vocal delivery setting down a strong marker. I absolutely adore both Nick’s lyrical skill (and Jeremy’s in the case of this song) and his delivery. This is a great example of both working in wonderful harmony with the expert instrumentation from the band – drenched in themes of some kind of renewal, characterised of course by a firebird, which is a phoenix, innit?

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Freeborn Al / 2nd March 2019 / Music, Other Bands, Photos

Kept in the dark..

Ooh, hello – amazingly I actually remembered the login details for the blog!

The new album from Headsticks landed on my doormat this week, and whilst I’ve deliberately reined back on writing it has inspired me to try to remember how all this internet stuff works. Because it’s just shy of an hours worth of excellence.

What struck me above anything is there’s some real diversity in stylings and tone from what I expected, and a progression from their previous two excellent albums (I wrote about Feather and Flame just here). The Stoke on Trent band present here a collection of songs that showcases a band really comfortable in their own skin – and perhaps most stark that I’ve not really associated with them before is a sense of playfulness and fun.

Which probably isn’t surprising for anyone who’s spent any time with Andrew (and I dare say the rest of the band, who I don’t know so well!), but where before social-consciousness and politics have been central pillars, in here we have that enhanced with a proper cheekiness – not least with Mushrooms which, whilst underpinned with a serious message delivered over a bouncy skank overlaid with sinister pixie laughs. It sounds silly written like that, it’s so catchy though!

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Freeborn Al / 2nd March 2019 / Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

Master of plenty! Brian Stone album is OUT NOW!

Brian Stone releasing his debut album is definitely a good reason to dust the cobwebs off the blog again – I was really chuffed when he got in touch to ask if I was still reviewing stuff.  Admittedly I’m doing so much less fervently these days – so getting a download link and getting everything synced across to my phone felt quite exciting – I could get a few listens in before getting to grips with writing up a review.  Also that residual nervousness, it’s a mate’s blood sweat and tears you’re being expected to somehow do justice to in words.  Well, I’ll give it a go!

I was reflecting when I first got to know Brian, I think it was at a Gaz Brookfield gig in Oakham, Rutland when we first got talking a good few years ago now – about three and half years ago he and Karen kindly provided me a bed for the night after Ferocious Dog played Cambridge.  After that gig he casually picked up his guitar apologetically before playing through some FD, Gaz Brookfield and Leatherat songs – always one to play down his talents – which quickly became a fixture around campfires and then of course stages over quite a short timespan really if you think about it!

What I particularly love about this album is the assemblage of lots of friends to add their instrumentation to the songs – it’s a risky prospect, we’re used to Brian in solo acoustic guise – but this is done really well, some songs have a full band sound, which don’t detract from the underlying tune, some remain stripped back – it’s all done very well (I was terrified to see Maty Tustian listed on backing vocals, for example!).  The combination of Brian’s songwriting, the artists’ interpretations of that and the predictably awesome production Joel Howe lends to proceedings gives a polished but authentic collection of songs.

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Freeborn Al / 12th October 2018 / Music, Other Bands

New Ferocious Dog song aired by the BBC

Wow, I remembered the login details to this page!

If you didn’t hear the four piece incarnation on Jo Good’s Radio London show earlier, then thankfully Matt was on hand to save a recording as the popularity of the band seems to have broken iPlayer!  Featured is a first live airing (and first acoustic attempt) of one of the songs from their soon-to-be-released album, it’s called The Landscape Artist and was co-written by non other than Jeremy Cunningham from the mighty Levellers.

You can have a listen below – it sounds great, lyrically evocative and a great melody – it’s really whetted the appetite to hear the full band version! Enjoy, and thanks to Matt for grabbing it as by the time I tried to do it iPlayer was broken!  Well done chaps, bodes well for the new album which obviously we’re all ludicrously excited about anyway!

Freeborn Al / 13th September 2018 / Band, Hell Hounds, Interview, Lee Bonsall, Music

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